Kamisama Dolls – Review

Kyohei doesn’t want to admit it to himself but the series says it clearly: Insanity is reality’s Godmode-Cheat-Code for Kakashi-fights…

Kamisama Dolls did have some success even if the animation was inconsistent and the ending was a disturbing case of having a bad idea but thinking “Why not…?”. A shounen-series that definitely tried to go its own way but ultimately it’s the series itself that keeps it from being the interesting shounen-series it should be.

Summary:

Release-Date: 2011
Episodes: 13
Synopsis:Kyouhei Kuga is a young man who has left his small hometown to escape from its anachronistic rules and traditions and try a new life at Tokyo as a simple university student. In the past he was a seki, title given to individuals who are able to control the mysterious kakashis. Considered as gods in the small Karakami village, the kakashi are ancient wooden wonders able to perform incredible feats. The escape of a seki named Aki Kuga, old friend of Kyouhei, from the provincial town abruptly brings to Tokyo a handful of other seki who are searching for him. Despite being so far away, Kyouhei is still haunted by the old laws and hatred between the two main families, the Kuga and the Hyuga. – ANN

Sensei’s series of bad decisions regarding love found its high point with her having sex with Aki. No matter how you look at it, Sensei is really the epitome of a bad love-life.

Review:

Kamisama Dolls – your usual mecha-shounen-series? Definitely, no! First of all, the pseudo-mechas of this show are out of wood! But it doesn’t burn, really, it’s this alien slime they used on this wood to make these “Kamisama Dolls” that changes everything because now these wooden statues gain telepathy and some other iffy Houdini-tricks like flying! Don’t lament that this isn’t imaginative enough for you because these are still mecha and there’s only so much a mecha can do no matter what he’s made out of.
At this point you probably ask yourself why you would wanna want to have wooden statues that can fly and shoot laser beams – besides making another Star Wars prequel naturally. I don’t know either but there’s a village that has a lot of them in this series. It has a name but this show has a lot of names thrown into the plot and most of them are real tongue twisters so I just call it The Village (great letters and a ‘the’ do wonders in this kind of situations). So, The Village is full of these wooden pseudo-mechas and they are controlled by special people with special powers (read: kids) and we get to see three of them at the beginning.
Kyohei is the sulky brat hearing a tune in his head that doesn’t seem to play in accord with the world around him, depression hits him hard realizing that and Kyohei does what every young man would do when he doesn’t know what to do with his life: he goes to university. Leaving his sheltered life of being special behind he adjusts to society by becoming a wimpy shy fool with the charm of a tomato (his face gets red out of embarrassment – a lot).
So that’s Kyohei and as ‘antagonist’ Aki is introduced, the black sheep of The Village who should be in jail but somehow could break out (a hint: it wasn’t Santa Claus that got him out). Aki, well, he didn’t quite got from life what he paid for and that pissed him off and in an incredibly massive act of sulkiness he swore to himself to never bother with anything again. Instead he went the existentialism-route of questioning what the whole crap of life is all about while not allowing himself to be surprised that it has nothing to do with sugar and unicorns leading him to the decision that he ought to waste his time away getting on Kyohei’s nerves and wondering how life would be like without him doing anything (he’s sort of like a cynic hippie that way).
And the third in the round is Utao, his little sister, now that’s the girl who takes up Kyohei’s old job of managing his pseudo-mecha after he had realized that he wasn’t quite born to be wild in that sense (or so he wants to make himself believe). But there’s a problem: Utao is inexperienced and Stupid (with a big ‘S’, I’m not talking about human terms of stupid here, guys). So you get to see her how she messes things up very often. You’re supposed to laugh about it – don’t, it is not funny. She also has a brother-complex because in the universe of anime exists a special kind of Freudian complex explaining how brother and sister nearly always develop a kind of subconscious form of love (getting on each other’s nerves every day is just the perfect ground for love to bloom in animes).
Ah, and there’s Hibino but she’s sort of a blank slate – with boobs. She is there to be the noob that asks the hard questions like how is a flying wooden statue making any sense – and she has boobs, the animators kindly helped us in that regard not to forget that fact and even the script supports with a few lines our memory not to forget that she has big boobs. Does it matter? Not to us but it matters to Kyohei because she’s his love-interest and we know it. And as cliché as it may seem we know that they get together, it’s only a matter of time. But don’t worry this isn’t a show getting soapy enough to use theatrical words like “destiny”.
There are a ton of other people who also play a role in this show but asking me how important they are I might just advise you to guess each episode who could be how important this episode because it does seem to depend on chance who gets to have a spotlight each week aside from the characters I mentioned. The villain of this show for example is a forgettable politician who wants to globalize the wooden pseudo-mecha. That may sound like a neat idea for a story but it’s never really used in the story as such. There it’s just a sort of excuse for the audience to consider him evil. And the real bad guys, the “evil dudes”, they of course are in The Village and they appear only shortly and practically play no role in this series since the point where they would play a role comes after the end of this series (see the problem: The real villains of the story don’t even play a role in it as far as this series is concerned).

A wise man once said that intelligence doesn’t matter – as long as you’re not stupid. I wish someone would’ve remembered that when Utao was created…

But what happens instead if not “destiny”? An introduction basically, this series is a 13-episode-introduction of getting the action going. The moment when you finally buy into the whole The Village thing… it’s over, simply over. Of course the series couldn’t quite go without having a Schwarzenegger “I’ll be back”-moment at the end. Surely it was one of the greatest mistakes in this series how it just assumed that it would get another season. No, it didn’t just assume, it demanded a second season!
The plot may be full of subplots and there are a bunch of new characters thrown into the mix, even in the tenth episode, but all things considered it’s a slow plot because the plot does so much at once that it has a hard time getting things done. Nearly nothing ends in this series and what seems to “end” might as well be just a halfway-point that gets explored later or it becomes a trifling matter for all the relevance it possesses ultimately (like the politician, that human footnote of the series, who the hell will remember him when thinking back after a few months have passed). As far as I understood what this series wanted to say story-wise essentially was that The Village with its wooden pseudo-mecha was a den of evil. Not only that they have the whole phony Kakashi-business going (while keeping the monopoly as a sort of oligarchy which is essentially anti-capitalistic evil), the people there are also batshit crazy (if you hear that someone’s connected to The Village and wasn’t thinking about moving to Tokyo then that person is simply batshit insane – that’s a good rule of thumb for this setting, believe me). Like I said there are a lot of sub-plots in this series and depending on what you concentrate the message of this series may be for you different but the fact is that there’s no coherent structure of a message behind this but a multitude of them just mentioned without making clear which of them were important and which weren’t. And more than the sensation that the story isn’t finished it’s the feeling of not even knowing what the essential direction of the series is that leads to the lack of satisfaction with this series.
While having a flawed storytelling due to its short length, another thing that takes much of the enjoyment away was the animation – it was bad, really bad. I’m not an expert who sees the tiny details but when even I notice inconsistent styles of drawing people and animations that just feel unnatural and a background-scenery that had a “pencil and ruler”-imagination (meaning it was simply drawn because these guys can draw it without any ideas or style behind it) then there’s definitely something wrong and that’s just another nail added to the coffin of this series named “Blu-Ray/DVD-Sales”.
Let’s just end this review with a serious thought: There won’t be a second season. Shocking, isn’t it? All this endless build-up of a story that’s basically just a teaser for the real action – wasted! Seriously, what kind of bad idea is it to animate such a series that isn’t finished and clearly has a way of being awesome only after having taken its pretty time to build up to that point? That’s what this series is: Too early released. It’s nice for the writer of the series to get an anime despite the fact that the story isn’t finished but I as a viewer want to see a complete story and not just a teaser for something else, even worse the conclusion that I search to know doesn’t even exist! So when my interest resulting out of this anime-series only pays off by me following an ongoing manga/light-novel-series then the whole anime was basically just indirect advertisement for the original series. But that’s a problem already known since for that case animes have created the anime-original endings when the source-material can’t deliver one. Sure, it rarely does a better job than what the source-material does eventually but it’s better than what happens with series like this one.

Kamisama Dolls may have been one of the other better series to follow in the summer-season but in retrospect I would only advise completionists who like the original series to watch this since the concept of this series is just messed up by the illusion of getting a sequel (which is at the point of this review an illusion but you know how it is: say never never). Judged by itself the bad parts outweigh the good and it all leaves ultimately the bitter feeling of not having an ending while having seen a far too long “first act” of a longer story. Without a sequel this series is just a start that doesn’t go anywhere.

Rating: 5,5/10

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About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on September 29, 2011, in Anime, Kamisama Dolls, Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Yey! Someone else who has just posted an anime review. I haven’t watched Kamisama dolls, though. Don’t really have an opinion, but it was nice reading a review!

    Enjoyed even the image choices 😀

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  2. Be careful M0rg0th, anger leads to cynicism, cynicism leads to nit-picking and nit-picking leads to unfair judgement. I will give criticism where it is due but if I hadn’t been following your reviews, I would have dismissed this as “haters gonna hate”.

    You say the dolls are ‘pseudo mecha’ over and over again, describing them as improbable contraptions made of wood that should be able to move the way they do, or do the things they do. So? Do you think any mecha in any other series moves realistically? That those hunks of metal could move with such agility, or fly because they have some tiny jet pack? It’s called willing suspension of disbelief because it looks cool. Why not focus on the positives of the series like how conceptually interesting the dolls are? As much as I think Kamisama Dolls would benefit from sticking to some more tried and true elements from shonen anime, if they were running around in Gundams I would have dropped this series after a few episodes.

    As anyone with a little sister will tell you (I do) romantic feelings are highly improbable from either the younger sister or older brother thanks to the Westermarck Effect. The reason we see it in anime isn’t because the animators want to sell you the idea that incest is cool, they just use the family relation as an excuse to put in a cute female character. Since this is always played for laughs and fan-service, there’s little point in thinking of it as a real character trait (kind of like Kyouhei’s occasional clumsiness).

    I honestly don’t know where this “terrible animation” bit came from. It seems like attitudes concerning animation have less to do with consistency than subjective opinions on style. If you want real inconsistency, look at a long running series like Naruto, Bleach, Negima or Full Metal Alchemist where it’s often clear the animators were pressed for time or simply didn’t care. When I think of bad animation, it’s when colors are drab, details poorly defined and characters and objects distort in ways that shouldn’t be possible. Welcome to the NHK had bad animation, Kamisama Dolls does not. Most people who complain about poor animation seem to think anything short of a Studio Ghibli film is total crap…

    Not trying to be hostile or anything but your cynical review style for Kamisama Dolls is starting to sound less critical and more bitter.

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    • Not trying to be hostile or anything but your cynical review style for Kamisama Dolls is starting to sound less critical and more bitter.

      And that’s it, isn’t it? The overall feeling you get from such a series is bitterness because you see potential getting wasted by the end of the show. The overall sensation of seeing a good story cut short before it even really begins isn’t the way to entertain. And the part that was shown wasn’t that interesting compared to what will come after it unless you give it a close look and see the potential, a potential that right now seems to go wasted as far as the anime is concerned. There are strong character-related moments in this show but they simply get buried by the blunder of deciding to make it an uncertain “to be continued”. It’s something similar to the rather bad experience of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows – Part I, it’s just painfully obvious how this isn’t the complete story and I won’t congratulate a series for promises that go unfulfilled at the end of it. When I see strong points in this show then because I can tell out of experience how good they are as build-up to interesting developments in the future but that’s thinking about what comes after this series but by itself it means that it just doesn’t get used in a meaningful way in this series. And I don’t think to make it an advantage of the show to rely that heavily upon the audience to understand the storytelling-related implications for the future due to their experience with the genre.

      I honestly don’t know where this “terrible animation” bit came from.

      I don’t expect it to be Ghibli but should be consistent at least… There were moments that were simply bad like for example the scene when Hibino sees Aki in the library in episode 8. That expression of Aki just seems… distorted.
      Or in another review I mentioned how we got to see the feet of the characters for an entire minute during an ongoing dialogue. That’s below average and it’s bad therefore. It doesn’t disturb your experience in a meaningful way, it’s not Akikan-bad but it does make mistakes… and it’s not like those mistakes are hard to see.

      It’s called willing suspension of disbelief because it looks cool.

      They are out of wood! Wood! Christ, they aren’t the boy-scouts or something, it’s the 21st century and stuff made out of wood just sounds far too medieval. If they want to be cool they should have invented a new resource for it or used metal, that’s why Gundam was about metal robots in space anyway, because it’s cool! Wooden statues flying through the air – not cool… compared to that. And it is a kinda mecha-similar trope that was used with the Kakashi here and therefore they are uncool. If he wants something different than Gundam-mecha he should be more imaginative with the whole thing like for example not making all the Kakashi walking weapons… but no, they all have to be these “wooden pseudo-mechas”.

      Since this is always played for laughs and fan-service, there’s little point in thinking of it as a real character trait (kind of like Kyouhei’s occasional clumsiness).

      So, it’s a stereotype? Doesn’t make it any less bad in my opinion, I would say. It should change and it won’t change because of the audience just sighing and thinking “Well, that’s just how animes are…”. Even if it’s a standard, when it’s a bad standard, I won’t like it.

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      • Concerning Animation: We will just have to agree to disagree here. I never saw the flaws you perceive as particularly jarring. I would go as far to say the animation was better than most series care to put in. Staring at people’s feet isn’t bad animation. THIS is an example of bad animation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFauSAWXEqM (Turn off the sound and go to about 4 minutes in)

        Concerning Dolls: Having them being made of wood alludes to the fact these are ancient machines. I prefer wood to say, unobtainium because it seems more reasonable that a rural village could make them. Less you have forgotten, even in the 21st century we are unable to make such machines, so having them made ‘according to 21st century standards’ would still be impossible. Ultimately, the dolls being made of wood only comes up as a plot point when they are being repaired, otherwise they function as though they were made from some highly dense but flexible material. As for not being creative, have you looked at their designs? They are all unique, are occasionally asymmetrical and alien in appearance. Compare that to other mechas which are essentially giant humanoid robots who carry a gun or sword.It probably isn’t even appropriate to call them ‘pseudo’ because they have so little in common with most other mechas. They aren’t humanoid, they don’t have pilots, they are more flexible, they have some form of sentience and they even bleed. They are more akin to Angels from Evangelion. I repeat, I would not of watched this series unless the dolls were as appealing as they are. Subjective, I know, but there are god knows how many other typical mecha anime if that’s your cup of tea.

        Concerning Utao: If you just re-imagine Utao as a childhood friend instead of a sister, her character, although barely changing, is suddenly reasonable. I’m sure most viewers don’t think of her being a sister and just a younger, one-sided romantic interest. Most people regard incest as generally abhorrent but as far as they are concerned, she’s just a cute character that’s there because of circumstances no one cares about. The point is, choose X alternate reason why she is there and you have the same moe doofus you had before but without the questionable brother-sister dynamic.

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  3. @ren

    Just saw the clip. Actually Ren, that fight scene was not so much terrible animation but it is instead a very different style of animation. It is quite heavy on the CGI and it lacks textures but the style of that scene ( am assuming you mean the kyuubi Naruto vs Pain part around 4mins in) leaned more towards the abstract side and I remember that scene well because I was baffled by how surreal it ended up becoming. You kinda lost track of time and space and it felt like they were fighting on a different dimension altogether. But I would still not say that that is bad animation.

    I would say lazy animation would be the scene between Naruto and Orichimaru towards the beginning of the season for Shippuden. Now that was just plain lazy. The whole staring at one another was simply the animators milking the series and scene for all that it was worth.

    I shall stop straying off topic.

    About the part regarding Utao, I can understand the point that you are making but I personally don’t like Utao because I see her as a rather useless character with no impact. =/ Even hibino seen to have more weight than Utao in this series.

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    • @Saranaufogus

      One thing we can definitely say about what constitutes ‘proper’ animation is consistency within the show and even for Naruto that scene was lacking in quality. Apart from being wildly different from it’s source material (it was a good fight in the manga) the action degraded to the point I thought I was watching a Looney Toons episode. Flying head first into a cliff and sticking out like a arrow lodged into a piece of wood (Is Pain into planking now)? Having your head smashed in until it’s at shoulder level (I was thinking of Beaker from the Muppets)? Running so fast that his legs become a circular blur (Pain is now Road Runner)? His face did some wacky contortions whenever he got hit or did an attack as well.

      Yes, some of this is just a critique of breaking all known laws of physics and human anatomy but the way his body warped according to the action was absurd. If all of Naruto were animated to be so silly I guess you would have to chalk it up to style (an odd one, but I digress) but most other episodes were not like this. Soul Eater is an example of wacky but consistent animation.

      Back to the subject of Kamisama Dolls, I thought background details were very well drawn, the character details well defined and their movements believable. I challenge naysayers to actually compile a list of these alleged bad animation moments.

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    • @ Ren

      “Back to the subject of Kamisama Dolls, I thought background details were very well drawn, the character details well defined and their movements believable. ”

      I don’t know about the detailed backgrounds in this show. The animation was mediocre and nothing special. If you were to talk about textured and detailed backgrounds, Mawaru Penguindrum (another Brains Base series) or perhaps even Kamisama no Memo-chou might be better.

      As for character details that are well defined and movements believable. I would say that it is like you said, it is believable, not good, but simply not too much of an issue. =/

      @m0rg0th

      “I challenge naysayers to actually compile a list of these alleged bad animation moments.”

      I smell war! =P *busts out the popcorn*

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  4. I found myself liking this series more than I should have, even with its flaws and plotholes. While many of the things that drove the characters to their actions didn’t exactly make sense, the series did a good job of keeping the plot moving, even if that resulted in a few too many subplots to wrap up and keep track of. Animation wise, I saw nothing worse than the average quality any other series that aired this season, and the sound, especially that creepy music for the dolls, lent itself well enough to the atmosphere.
    I’m convinced that if this show gets a second season, it will be far better than the first, they’ve already introduced so many plot points, meaning there is a lot of material to build on, whether its from the original source material or not; anime’s like these that come out of nowhere (at least from my perspective) suffer from either being over ambitious and trying to cover too much, or of not having enough material to cover their run time. While this was very ambitious, I do find it more satisfying that they gave an ending that left it completely open for a second season, and didn’t go off track and make up a worse ending that sort of wraps up everything in the quickest way possible; like the first FMA, or the more recent Soul Eater.
    I’d call this a consistently average show if anything, enough happened to make it interesting from week to week, even if I’ll probably forget I watched this series at all, a month from now.

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  5. @vishous

    “I’m convinced that if this show gets a second season, it will be far better than the first, they’ve already introduced so many plot points, meaning there is a lot of material to build on, ”

    =P Hopefully they don’t decide to dip a little into the plot material in a second season and simply try to drag it on to create a 3rd season. It would not be something unheard of afterall.

    As for the animation, it was like you had said, mediocre. I did not see to much issues with it except for the animators inability to focus on things above the neck =P but then again, that is why it is called fan-service.

    “I’d call this a consistently average show if anything”

    Hmm, not sure about it being consistently average but it is definitely nothing memorable like you had said.

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  6. and now instead of checking out the anime, here I am enjoying a good read ; )

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